One of the top therapists at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary is an Australian Labradoodle.
Tullulah can do in five minutes what takes her owner, Alberta Health Services social worker Martina Quinn, as much as three hours to do.
“She disarms people and gets them completely relaxed,” says Quinn, whose clients include adults with cancer and children who have a parent with cancer. “She is the perfect therapist—she’s nonjudgmental and offers her unconditional love and support.”
Counsellors specializing in animal-assisted therapy have long known the mental health benefits of pets. Petting an animal can promote relaxation by lowering blood pressure and slowing the heart rate. Seniors who own a pet are less likely to need health-care services or experience depression.
“Pets give people a sense of purpose,” Quinn says. “Someone who is depressed may not feel like doing anything themselves, but if they have a dog, they know they have to feed it and take it out for a walk.”
Dr. Melanie Rock, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Calgary and a population health researcher for Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions, notes that even moderate physical activity, such as walking a dog, can boost mood.
“Pets can also break the ice with other people when they’re out walking the dog,” she says. Those encounters can help offset the self-isolating tendencies of someone who is depressed.
Research also shows that people feel more connected to their communities if they have a regular dog-walking routine in their neighbourhood.
“Good mental health isn’t just the absence of a mental illness,” Rock says. “It’s at the core of health. We need to make sure our public policies help support people who choose to live with a pet.”
This week’s Healthy Content is an excerpt from Apple, Alberta Health Services’ health and wellness magazine. For more information on Apple please visit: www.applemag.ca